Monday, April 20, 2009
by Juliet Waldron
(Hard Shell Word Factory / 0-759-94310-9 / 978-0-759-94310-0 / February 2005 / 354 pages / $15.95 / Kindle $6.00 April 2004)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM
Discovering this book was a slap-to-the-forehead moment for me. Of course! What a great subject! Most readers (myself included) know little more about Wolfgang and Constanze Mozart than they might have seen in the movie Amadeus, where what few insights were portrayed were notoriously inaccurate (being based on a work of fiction in the first place). Even if one loves Mozart's music, as so many do, and loves books about music and musicians, the personal lives and character of these two celebrities are largely unknown. In fact, the person who delves further into history will find that Constanze, in particular, has been treated unflatteringly and even harshly by the chroniclers, as so many famous women of history were. What a great opportunity to learn something about one of musical history's notable people!
Juliet Waldron reinterprets the life of Constanze Mozart in most convincing fashion in this splendidly researched and masterfully written account of her life from young teen to aged widow. Constanze is not a perfect woman: she has her faults. As a naive young girl, she is swept off her feet by the dashing and famous young prodigy, delights in his sensuality, and willingly marries him hardly knowing what kind of life she is in for. Her new husband, she comes to learn, is a spendthrift and bon vivant. Though devoted to her, he also works diligently to cultivate a whole city full of aristocrats, church officials, wealthy merchants with attractive daughters to be taught, networks of influential, often jealous artists and composers, and platoons of flashy, high-living show people. In addition, he must travel frequently, and, in whatever time remains, write immense quantities of music that will please the paying public. In addition, her in-laws appear from time to time to add to the misery.
An attractive, talented singer herself, Constanze has a hard life, though one not without its pleasures. She has status, she has clothes, and they generally live in sumptuous lodgings (which they can seldom afford). Custom does not allow her to manage their finances, however, and while both husband and wife delight in their children, she finds childbirth terribly difficult, debilitating, and on occasion, tragic. They quarrel from time to time, and when she finds proof that Mozart has strayed, she cannot resist straying herself.
The famous death scene in Amadeus is recast in Mozart's Wife, probably to fit the available evidence more closely. (As such, it is considerably more ghastly and affecting than in the movie.) The movie concluded at that point, but the real Constanze lived to be 80, discovering what love in a stable marriage is like, developing a keen sense of financial management, and helping pass on much of her first husband's music to the world. This period of her life is given full measure in the novel.
Ms. Waldron does a wonderful job of recreating an authentic feeling of life in 18th Century Austria. I am a music lover myself, and I enjoyed reading the names of the composers and other luminaries he ran across in his brief life: Salieri and Sussmeyer are fairly well known, but other lesser-known names were just as intriguing. Would you believe Casanova? In sum, Mozart's Wife is a thoroughly entertaining and even informative novel. The writing, editing and proofreading are very nearly perfect. There is an extensive bibliography of sources at the end.
I would call Mozart's Wife a fictional autobiography, though some might term it (or wish it) a romance. I wouldn't object, remembering that Ernest Hemingway once pointed out there is no such thing as a romance with a happy ending. Mozart’s Wife is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and those interested in classical music.
See Also: Hand-Me-Down Bride (just released)
The High Spirits Review (scroll down the page)
Juliet Waldron's Website